Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2006Kellogg School of Management
In DepthIn BriefDepartmentsClass NotesClub NewsArchivesContactKellogg Homepage
Letter from the Dean
Theory: A delicate balance of self-confidence and humility defines true leaders
Practice: A student leader reflects on lessons learned
Faculty thought leaders
Faculty Research: Angela Lee, Marketing
Faculty Research: David Austen-Smith, MEDS
Alumni Profile: Tom Wilson '80
Alumni Profile: Chris Lansing '89
Alumni Profile: John Livingston '93
Alumni Profile: Beth Kiely '98
Alumni Profile: Meredith Lincoln and Leslie Sagalowicz '00
Address Update
Alumni Home
Submit News
Internal Site
Northwestern University
Kellogg Search
  Chris Lansing '89

Alumni Profile: Chris Lansing '89

Roast of the town
Growing a beloved boutique coffee company requires respect for its tradition and customers, says Peet's CMO

By Aubrey Henretty

Chris Lansing '89 admits to two vices in life: chocolate and coffee, and since graduating from the Kellogg School, she's managed each with unbridled passion.

After serving several years as the vice president of marketing at chocolate giant The Hershey Company, Lansing moved last year to Peet's Coffee & Tea, a Berkeley, Calif.-based specialty roaster and retailer with a loyal, independent-minded customer base and a history as rich as its signature blends. Founded in 1966 by Holland native and coffee connoisseur Alfred Peet, the company prides itself on roasting, brewing and selling the highest-quality coffees and teas with almost religious zeal.

"We believe in roasting to a taste, not a color," says Lansing. Because each batch of beans is different, she says, Peet's spurns the automated roasting preferred by other popular coffee merchants, instead employing master roasters — with an average of more than 10 years experience at Peet's — to roast each batch by hand.

According to Lansing, another practice that differentiates Peet's is its tradition of roasting to order. "We're so concerned about the quality of the coffee that we don't want it sitting on the shelf waiting for someone to enjoy it," she says. The day after customers place orders, skilled roasters arrive at Peet's at 4 a.m. and set to work, tasting each batch to make sure it meets the firm's standards. The coffee is then distributed within 24 hours to Peet's stores and homes so that customers can enjoy it at the peak of freshness.

Lansing credits her Kellogg education with preparing her to take on a corporate leadership role. Classes taught by Professors Philip Kotler and Dipak C. Jain were among those that imparted valuable marketing insights, she recalls. "The whole teamwork aspect of Kellogg has been invaluable," she says.

As chief marketing officer at Peet's, Lansing oversees the company's retail, grocery and home delivery marketing plans, as well as merchandising strategies and brand and creative services, including store design and social responsibility programs. Peet's is very active in the communities it serves and regularly contributes to charities and supports the arts.

The Kellogg alum says it's also important for her to understand her often fiercely loyal customers — the self-proclaimed "Peetniks" — though she admits that as a group they can be difficult to pin down. "They're all over the map demographically," Lansing says, noting the wide age range and diverse array of interests and the high degree of intimacy their culture encourages, even with the company's CMO: "People will send us paintings that they've done in their local Peet's."

Peet's popularity has soared in recent years, and the number of stores — spanning six states — has crept into the triple digits. Even daytime talk-show icon Oprah Winfrey has taken notice, selecting Peet's coffee as one of her "favorite things" for 2005 on the show that aired Feb. 1.

"Peet's is for serious coffee drinkers," Winfrey said during the broadcast. "You're not playing if you go to Peet's."

Lansing says that some longtime customers are selectively wary of the company's mass appeal: "They say 'Don't grow too much' as long as there's a Peet's near them." But she does understand their concern and strives not to let the company's expansion change the ethos that has defined and sustained Peets for the past 40 years. "Given that we're growing so fast," she says, "we have to figure out: How do we scale?"

Lansing says that, so far, the company has maintained its focus on quality and community, starting small when thinking big. On Christmas Eve, for example, coffee is free at Peet's, and all tips are donated to charity. Each Peet's employee is trained rigorously. "The people in our stores are our biggest marketing vehicle," says Lansing, adding that they share their customers' (and her own) passion for delicious coffee, which she prefers without frills.

"I go for the straight coffee," she says. "Black."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University